Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dear sister,
Getting ready for the Nutcracker this weekend has me thinking about the details. There are so many components of the holiday season that I love: music, candles, nature, warmth, food, decoration and crafts, fires (in fireplaces, of course), sweets, family …

Part of why I’ve always loved the Nutcracker is that it encapsulates so many of these elements at their prime: the lavish decorations and elegant costumes of the Act 1 party scene contrasted with the evocation of natural beauty in the Act 1 snow finale, the warmth, excitement, and colors of the candy divertissements in Act 2, and of course, that ever-present, ever-recognizable music throughout. Putting on a production of Nutcracker, like putting on another classic like Christmas Carol, is an excuse to go to the most pithy of Christmas elements, to draw on the most explicit of the symbols and ideas, to attempt to produce in the audience’s eyes, ears, and hearts the epitome of the Christmas spirit.

And with all that said, another main reason I like Nutcracker so much is because the Act 2 dances encourage my OCD tendencies with a celebration of all the things I hold dear (music, color, dancing, candy) neatly packaged into short, labeled, color-coded packages. Chocolate = Spanish = trumpet solo = red and black tutu. Coffee = Arabian = heavy on the sultry clarinet = deep, jeweled blues and greens. Tea = Chinese = flute trills and quickly plucked violin strings = bright yellow and pink. And so on.

It’s always bothered me slightly that things start to break down after those first three … Marzipan has no associated ethnicity ... Waltz of the Flowers has nothing to do with food … and what drink or candy is Russian supposed to represent, anyway? (Vodka?) And obviously, this is all begging for problematic “ethnic interpretations” by a corps of white, European ballet dancers.

But it’s Christmas, so we overlook the painted mustaches of the Chinese dancers and the see-through Arabian harem pants, and focus instead of how these details come together to paint an overall picture for us, one of imagination and mystery and adventure and, yes, a safe return to the warmth and open arms of home.

Finding myself immersed in all these details has been hard for me this Christmas. I’m spending just as much time sitting by the fireside knitting as I am in the basement, sorting and packing and stowing away. It’s hard to take pleasure in the little delights of the holidays when the big picture to which they add up is at best blurry and out-of-focus. (When I’m having a bad day, it feels more like someone sponge-painted over it with splotches of dark gray – or at worst, erased all together.) There is a bigger picture there, of this I am sure, but right now all I can see is the disparate, disassociated elements.

I can take some solace in lists and labels – what to pack and what to store, what to mail and what to give away. (I have another box for you to look through, by the way. I think some of it might already be yours, actually … I was just babysitting it for you for a while.)

But eventually, I have to leave the basement for the kitchen and the living room and the rehearsal studio – where things are a little more messy and often a lot more unfocused. That’s where the music and the laughter is, the chocolate and the candles, the Christmas tree and the latkes and the knitting and the firesides. And even if the bigger picture seems out of reach right now, I try to have hope in the direction that these little details point me: towards imagination and mystery and adventure and, yes, a happy return to the open arms of family and home.

your can’t-wait-to-see-you-next-week-and-oh-yeah-I-think-that's-your-blue-shirt-in-my-closet sister

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